One of Nike’s most popular shoes of all time, and the first ever basketball shoe to have Nike Air technology, are the Air Force 1s. Nike Air Force 1s came out in 1982 but became prominent during the re-release in 1986. Almost four decades later millions of people wear them daily and are still on Nike’s best seller list. According to Nike, they have maintained sales more than $800 million per year with about $300 million in profit just from the Air Force 1’s alone. For this reason, other designers and companies try to copy this shoe.
In the current case, Nike is suing John Geiger for selling his “GF-01” shoes. Nike claims that Geiger’s shoes “infringe the trade dress of its Air Force 1s and that Los Angeles-based, La La Land Production & Design Inc. is helping manufacture the lookalikes. A copy of Nike’s complaint obtained by Complex states, “By marketing and selling shoes using Nike’s registered Air Force 1 trade dress, John Geiger knowingly and intentionally creates confusion in the marketplace and capitalizes on Nike’s reputation and the reputation of its iconic shoes.”
The situation is messy due to La La Land Production & Design Inc. being the manufacturer of the GF-01 due to their history with Nike. “They were the production company named in the Nike v. Warren Lotas lawsuit over his “bootleg” Dunk designs last year.” While Nike’s lawsuit against La La Land is being expanded, it no longer includes Lotas, who settled with the company in December. La La Land has already responded to Nike’s latest move, having filed an amended counterclaim against the sportswear giant. “It accuses the company of using “unduly aggressive, disproportionate, highly burdensome litigation strategies” to enforce “questionable” trade dress rights.” La La Land also adds, “Nike’s strategy aims to quash competition and intimidate legitimate businesses … that often lack the resources to defend themselves against such a well-resourced opponent. There is a bullying nature to these actions that chills creativity and lawful competition.”
John Geiger, former manager for Darrelle Revis, worked with Nike, “in the design of the Zoom Revis in 2012 and worked with The Shoe Surgeon on the Travis Scott Air Force 1 “Misplaced Checks” and Air Force 1s adorned with multiple Swooshes in premium materials before founding his own brand.” The “Misplaced Checks” were one of the biggest Air Force 1 concepts to ever release without Nike. The last couple of years the “ultra-premium material base and streetwear style” has been his way to standout. Instead of paying $1,000 for high end shoes or $300 for Jordans, Geiger wanted to hit the market with something in the middle before anyone else had the chance. He has successfully done so by having celebrities like Wale, Fabolous, and Iman Shumpert wear his products.
Geiger took to Instagram to address the lawsuit, saying how Nike has benefitted off him and other designers for years. He even describes the shoe and intent as being, “very clear throughout the 2 years of developing and selling the GF-01 that this silhouette was inspired by Nike and also made sure that anyone purchasing the shoe is aware it is a designer shoe crafted with higher end materials and quality, along with my trademark and changes to the silhouette. I also created my own mold for our outsoles with branded JG trademark and changed the pattern multiple times all while following trade dress guidelines.”
Nike is not new to lawsuits, but brands like BAPE that produce obvious tributes to Nike’s shoes have never been hit with a lawsuit in the way that designers like Geiger and Lotas have. Therefore, it seems Nike can pick and choose which companies to go after. Geiger has a history with Air Force 1s, made other modified versions of the shoe with other companies, and even received his own trademarks. There must be a reason Nike is targeting Geiger or they are just upset that he chose La La Land as his manufacturer. Geiger might have had no other choice but to work with La La Land to keep his business afloat. His trouble trying to find a manufacturer is also clearly illustrated.
From a Bleacher Report article in 2018, Geiger states, “My 001 model consists of 36 pieces and takes three hours and 45 minutes to make each pair by hand. I moved my whole production from Italy to the USA last minute because I just wanted to be more hands-on." It is impossible to have a full-scale company taking almost four hours to make one shoe. He should have done his due diligence to see that La La Land is in a lawsuit with Nike in which they could easily target his product. When dealing with a large company like Nike who has massive amounts of resources it is never a good idea to assume any risks. Luckily for him based on his Instagram post he does not seem afraid to fight back against the goliath that Nike is.
In my opinion, Nike should not succeed in this case. The success of a plaintiff’s trademark infringement claim turns to whether there is a likelihood of confusion between the plaintiff’s and defendant’s trademarks. A plaintiff trademark holder will be successful if he can show that the defendant’s similar mark causes a likelihood of confusion amongst consumers. Courts use several factors when determining the likelihood of confusion such as similarity of products, sophistication, quality, and proof of confusion with the product.
Here, Geiger does not use the Nike swoosh symbol. He created his own trademarked symbol for his brand which looks like a “j combined with a g.” Everything Geiger has done with the GF-01 has been totally different than what Nike is doing. Geiger put his own touch onto a basic shoe by using higher materials, a mold that is also trademarked, and has changed his patterns over the years. The GF-01 is even in a totally different price market. Other companies and brands have a similar shoe such as Veja V-10, Cali-Wedge Sneakers, Puma Suede Classic, and Adidas Superstar who are still selling their shoe today. If gigantic brands can sell their shoe that is similar to the Air Force 1, then a brand in their own unique market should be able to as well. Nike should not be able to monopolize a shoe that is basic and easy to reproduce.
Chris D'Avanzo is a 2L at Hofstra Law School. He can be found on Twitter @_chrisdavanzo.